Opportunity. Challenge. Innovation. These words form the backbone of RMIT University (Melbourne Institute of Technology University) in Australia. Too often, architecture schools become enamored of the aesthetics in the field to the detriment of all else. Not so at RMIT. Here, the approach is an ideal combination of meaningful research with design solutions. The architecture program achieves this by teaching design skills based in their practical application and framed by social idealism and cross-disciplinary training.
What does this mean? It means that students gain access to different perspectives on what design can do and how it can be done. Anthropology, Biology, and Engineering are just a few of the academic disciplines students are exposed to during their training in architecture, towards projects that solve health, transportation, and even water issues. Even more interesting, the numerous research centers and institutes claim no less than two UN programs as their partners, giving students the tools to enact their idealism in ways that are meaningful and truly useful.
In fact, the architecture program has many areas of focus, such as Construction Management and Building, Project Management and three other related fields, all geared towards improving the “critical global problems affecting communities and the environment.” Projects include design research centered on engineering and science collaborations, smart technology towards improving sports and health issues, another field devoted just to improving health and lifestyle, and then there is the issue of how to sustain and renew our finite resources, addressed in the specialty of sustainability and climate change challenges.
What’s particularly exciting is research on the Future of Cities, a unique program that partners with two UN divisions—UN Habitat and the UN Global Compact Cities Program—to fundamentally shift the way people conceive of and approach the development of cities. It is rare that an architecture program works with one, let alone two UN organizations, and the benefits are myriad. For one, these organizations offer an infrastructure that will help architecture students and faculty succeed in a setting. Without this framework, programs are prone to cultural imperialism and failure, as exemplified by a recent attempt by Oxfam at rescripting its own imperialistic history.
Several university-based research centers including the Global Cities Research Institute, the Globalism Research Centre, the Design Research Institute, and the Centre for Design along with the UN programs all seek creative solutions for a wide range of issues. And because cities provide a microcosm to explore solutions, architecture seems an ideal venue to explore many different issues. For example, how do municipalities reconcile the rising need for potable water with decreasing supply, and how does that impact attempts to improve transportation options? Says Professor Paul James, Director of GCI, “What we’re trying to look at is at sustainability as very general. So it becomes not just environmental sustainability as ecological sustainability as we prefer to say, but also economic sustainability, and political and cultural sustainability…urban sustainability has now become one of the key dimensions of how we’re thinking about sustainability.” Other questions tackle the wider transnational questions regarding social and economic dislocation and disparity. Questions thus focus on how to engage different peoples in a meaningful manner and without exercising cultural imperialism, what how cities can prepare for climate change, and the specific steps communities can take.
In addition, the program is a reasonable three years for a Bachelor’s degree, considerably less than is the norm for universities in the U.S. as well as in the EU. That in itself is a boon. Another is that the information for domestic as well as international students is easily accessible. This is a school that understands the needs of a global student body. For domestic students, tuition is AU$8363 per year. For international students, he price rises to AU$27,840, which is €22,281.